If 2017 had a dominant storyline, it didn’t come until the latter part of the year when hurricanes wreaked havoc in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and states bordering the Gulf of Mexico.
Courses were inundated with floodwaters and debris in the U.S., but the majority of them look like they’ll be able to recover. Outside the country proper, however, it looks like a different story. With portions of Puerto Rico expected to be without electricity for up to six months, layouts lacking power for irrigation systems could be wiped out by disease and heat in no time. The courses there and the Virgin Islands play a significant role in the lucrative tourist industry.
1. Upping the level of difficulty
This past year, the U.S. Open ventured into Erin, Wisconsin, as Erin Hills made its debut as a venue for professional majors. In contrast to recent trends, the fairways of the Dana Fry design were not narrowed significantly at landing areas, and the width was ample.
Unfortunately, the prairie winds did not blow and players were able to overpower the course. Brooks Koepka finished on top at 16-under, tying the record for most shots below par in the U.S. Open. He was four blows ahead of Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama.
The USGA took notice of the low numbers and, in the fall of this year, began narrowing the fairways on 14 of the 18 holes at Tuckahoe, New York’s Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, site of the 2018 U.S. Open.
According to the USGA Executive Director and CEO Mike Davis, the fairways will be wider than the three courses prior to Erin Hills that held the tournament, with landing areas between 30 to 35 yards on average.
“We concluded that narrowing the fairways on several holes would provide the test of golf that the players and fans expect at the U.S. Open,” Davis said. “However, the narrowing of the fairways was done in a thoughtful manner to ensure the strategic nature of the fairway bunkering remained a key element of the ultimate test.”
The addition of Shinnecock’s rough was not just about growing up the grass but also entailed using turf from the short course, affectionately known as Mini Shinny, and areas where merchandise and media tents will be located, ultimately killing the grass. The USGA’s director of championship agronomy, Darin Bevard, is overseeing the alterations.
This will be the first major for Jon Jenning, Shinnecock superintendent, although he did host a Walker Cup while superintendent at Chicago Golf Club.
Shinnecock likely will be in phenomenal condition when the tournament is held in June, but it raised eyebrows in the turf world when the PGA of America announced that its championship would be moving to a May date beginning in 2019. Venues in colder climates will invariably be up against the clock if they want to have the grass in championship condition, especially after rough winters and springs.
In 2019, Bethpage Black, Farmingdale, New York, is scheduled to host its first PGA and third major. A bigger test for the May dates appears to be looming in 2023, when Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York, is the scheduled site.
2. The end of an era
There was a change at the top of the Augusta National Golf Club (ANGC) this past year, as Billy Payne resigned as chairman of the club, a position he held since 2006.
Under Payne, ANGC broke with many traditions, including allowing female members in 2012, when former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, a partner in the private investment firm Rainwater Inc., donned the traditional green membership jackets.
It was under Payne that Augusta allowed for the first-ever coverage of the par-3 tournament, which is held the day before the Masters begins. He also instituted a policy in which an adult attendee (referred to as a “patron” by the club) can bring along a junior patron (8 years to 16 years) on any of the four tournament days at no additional charge.
The ANGC also allowed its logo and the names of the tournament and golf course to be used as part of a video game under Payne’s watch. Profits are slated for a junior golf program.
Like his predecessors, though, Payne kept up the tradition of altering the Augusta layout on an almost-annual basis to combat the distances that modern golf balls travel off the clubs of touring professionals – and the lower scores they produce.
One of Payne’s final moves came in 2017, when ANGC purchased a section of the adjacent Augusta Country Club (ACC) in order to extend the 13th tee. The fee for the parcel was widely reported to be in excess of $20 million. Tom Fazio is modifying ANGC while Brian Silva, who restored ACC’s Donald Ross layout and has been working with the club for a number of years, is designing a new hole to replace the original ninth that was lost in the sale.
3. Notable tourneys
In 2018, the U.S. Women’s Open is at Shoal Creek while Scarsdale, New York’s Quaker Ridge Golf Club hosts the Curtis Cup. The Walker Cup was played at Quaker in 1997, while Shoal Creek was the location of two PGA Championships.
In 2018, The Women’s Amateur is at Golf Club of Tennessee in Kingston Springs, while the U.S. Amateur is scheduled for Pebble Beach Golf Links in California, with Spyglass Hill, also in Pebble Beach, as the other qualifying site.
In addition, the Open Championship returns to Scotland’s Carnoustie Golf Club, with the PGA Championship scheduled for Bellerive Country Club in Missouri.